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Elle Bee. You are 8 today and all the lights are green. There are choirs. Forest fires. On your mark. Get set. Go.

You read to me now, fluently. The stunned confusion of arbitrary black symbols on a page no longer stands in the way of the steady flow of your little voice. My eyes dart back and forth between your book, your mouth, and your tennis match pupils and I lose myself in the impossibility of translation. Your eyes! They’re so present and distant and blue, always two steps ahead of the tip of your tongue as you read aloud and translate the near future into meaning, reading, what will soon be said surfs on the wave of the story you’re telling. Your voice rises and falls, comfortable now, within the limits—freed by the limits—of punctuation.

It’s all right here, little girl. All the secrets. The size of the world is as big as your vocabulary. The meaning of life. God. Ethics. Aesthetics. Truth. A waste of time—all of it. The only thing worth seeking is literacy.


“Tommy scratched his head and stared at the floor.” you read, immersed in the story, and I (I can’t help it) stop you.

“Way way wait. Hold on just a second. Tommy’s scratching his head? What for? I mean he just found the blue vase smashed on the floor and he’s just standing there scratching his head? What’s his deal? Why’s he scratching his head?”

“Because his head itches!” You smile and I frown and you begin to slowly scratch your head. I love you more than whole schools of fish love the salty blue ocean. “Tommy’s scratching his head,” you begin, still scratching yours, “because Tommy... is thinking.”

“But it doesn’t say that in the book. All it says is ‘Tommy scratched his head and stared at the floor.’” I’m clearly frustrated. All the world’s a stage.

“You have to read between the lines, Daddy.” you explain, exasperated. “It’s called an inference. Look it up.”

Inference. Look it up.


8 years ago today, after your Mom fell asleep, I gazed at you in our hospital room and chewed on my thumb nail. I scooped you up, sat in the green chair, and grappled with the fact of your sudden new being. I imagined a 1200 pound Kodiak bear trying to attack you. I don’t know why I was in Alaska with a baby who was 10 hours old; it just happens. Anyway, this bear was trying to attack you and I stabbed its eyes out with a six and a half inch Buck knife and then I just stabbed and stabbed and stabbed like I had nine arms in a horror movie. I was just rage and adrenaline, caked in angry blood. This image is wildly hyperbolic because your Dad’s bark is—well, bark’s pretty much it. But I continued to spin grand myths about protecting you against great harms because the overwhelming desire to keep you safe was the only way my imagination could articulate the intensity of cradling your littleness on the first day of your life.


But I’m no match for Kodiaks. Three days before you turned 8-years-old, you hopped in the car after school, crying. Your friends were mean to you, you didn’t know why, neither did I, and there was nothing to do. Stabbing out their eyes with a six and a half inch Buck knife would not be appropriate so I just listened to your story and tried to say reassuring things that we both knew didn’t matter. Nothing matters when the world is ending.

The parental conundrum. I want so badly to protect you while knowing that marrow is only discovered in the jagged cracks of broken bones. The world’s going to rip you apart and shatter your dreams. You are not enough. Things will never be okay. You must die to everything you want, let the fire burn you down and leave no ash. And then only then.


But here I am again on your 8th birthday, unable to stop stabbing bears in the eyes. Indulge me. First and foremost, read. Read and read and read some more. Let all this reading escape the confines of intellectual pretension and drip into the world. The only way to truly know a person is to study their hands. When people speak, watch their hands. The things people say work to conceal much, much more than what they’re revealing. Revelation is obfuscation. Do not look to Kant or Peter Singer for ethics. Look at trees. For ways to be, read the trees. Judge all religions and philosophies by how, if carried to their logical conclusions, their adherents would treat their dogs. Go outside every morning. Look up. Look down. It’s always a safe bet to study the opinions of the popular culture and believe the exact opposite. I’m talking 180 degrees. Protect your solitude. Talk to yourself and listen. Check your answers against the mountains. When in doubt, go with the mountains. Tap into the atmosphere of situations, events, and rooms. Get hip to tone and go with your gut. It’s all between the lines. Hiding behind them. Read, slip through, and disappear between the lines of all your days.

I could never tell you what you’ll find. It’s called an inference. Look it up. It’s something like a conclusion about what’s not really there.


Happy 8th birthday, sweet little girl. My life’s not my story without you on its pages.

Reader Comments (31)

Simply beautiful . . . I like you, BHJ.

February 27, 2012 at 5:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterKim

"My life’s not my story without you on its pages." - Love's labour....

Happy Birthday kid, and Dad...for aching, breaking and continuing...for 8 years now.

February 27, 2012 at 5:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterNatalie

"The world’s going to rip you apart and shatter your dreams. You are not enough. Things will never be okay. You must die to everything you want, let the fire burn you down and leave no ash."

...stunned. So pretty.

February 27, 2012 at 5:54 AM | Unregistered Commenterkate inglis

we will never keep them safe, no, not really. and yet i keep reminding myself of the many joys of being unsafe. and hoping i can keep a safe space open to come home to.

happy birthday to your Elle Bee, lovely child.

February 27, 2012 at 6:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterBon

Daughters are the best.

February 27, 2012 at 6:23 AM | Unregistered Commenterthe muskrat

Happy 8th, Sweetheart! Hope it's your best one yet and the day is filled with fun, surprises and everything you hoped for. Jon, that urge to protect, so strong and unrelenting, never, ever goes away no matter how many birthdays come and go..you'll always want to keep that knife sharp. Love to both of you..Mom

February 27, 2012 at 6:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterMom

I watch my daughter read like I'm watching a movie (she's about that age). I love that like Ponyo loves ham.

February 27, 2012 at 6:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterThe Mister

yes. this.
this is what every daughter wants to hear from their father.
needs to hear.
(sometimes the bark is enough, you know.
sometimes it is loud enough to frighten the rest away.)

February 27, 2012 at 7:32 AM | Unregistered Commenterkrista

Completely slayed.

Just so beautiful - your words, but also that men can love their daughters like this.

February 27, 2012 at 8:06 AM | Unregistered Commenteredenland

"I don’t know why I was in Alaska with a baby who was 10 hours old; it just happens".

Yes, that. The same thing happened to me, only I was in Wales.

February 27, 2012 at 8:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterGappy

My god, man.

I think that's the only comment I ever leave here. I'm okay with that.

I really just like you a lot. And her. And all of you.

February 27, 2012 at 8:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterMr Lady

You are so very good. Happy day, Lovely Dad.

February 27, 2012 at 8:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterLisa Rae @ smacksy

one day, this love letter just might mean everything. it would to me, anyway.
and this -> "marrow is only discovered in the jagged cracks of broken bones." felt as close to perfection as words can get. shit YES, i yelled in my dining room.
what a beautiful love you have. thanks for continually sharing your love letters to her with us.
and yes, never stop watching hands.

February 27, 2012 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered Commenterleel

Happy birthday to your girl.

"My life’s not my story without you on its pages." might be the most perfect line I've ever read, by the way.

February 27, 2012 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterJennie

That is so beautiful. You are lucky to have each other.

February 27, 2012 at 10:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterCheney

She's gorgeous. And you're an amazing dad. Happy birthday, kiddo.

February 27, 2012 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered Commentersweetney

So so beautiful. I've never cried while reading about stabbing bear's eyes before.

February 27, 2012 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterAmelia

I feel like any comment on this would be ridiculous. But not commenting isn't an option.

This was so beautiful.

I have two daughters. I get it.

February 27, 2012 at 4:18 PM | Unregistered Commenterjill (mrs chaos)

This is fantastic.

February 27, 2012 at 5:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterkristen howerton

I remember each of your birthday posts to your girl -- they are each so beautiful and a pleasure to READ.

Thank you, BHJ, and happy birthday to your girl.

February 27, 2012 at 7:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

I am not sure which line made me cry-Was it: \"I love you more than whole schools of fish love the salty blue ocean\"? Or was it \"My life’s not my story without you on its pages\"?
Your words, as always, overcome me.
Happy birthday to your sweet little girl.

February 27, 2012 at 8:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterDanielle [Left of Lost]

happiest of days to your sweet little love. give her a kiss from me when you see her next.

February 27, 2012 at 9:07 PM | Unregistered Commenterohjennymae

Just beautiful. Happy birthday Elle Bee!!!

February 28, 2012 at 7:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterTiffany

This was so sweet, now I kind of feel bad for busting your chops on Twitter. Kind of. (;

Happy birthday to your little girl!

February 28, 2012 at 8:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Barone

Beautiful. Simply, elegantly, eloquently beautiful.

February 29, 2012 at 10:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterJosette Plank (used to be halu shki)

Gorgeous. Happy belated birthday to your daughter.

March 1, 2012 at 8:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterChrisy


March 7, 2012 at 12:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlicia

Thank you.

March 8, 2012 at 10:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicole


March 13, 2012 at 8:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterDawn

I Love this! Daddy's are the first layer of self-esteem for women; so wonderful to spread such a passionate message! Thank You, from the little girl in me who never had that kind of love from her dad! Glad I found your words today...

April 3, 2012 at 2:00 PM | Unregistered Commenteramie

"I want so badly to protect you while knowing that marrow is only discovered in the jagged cracks of broken bones".

What gifts you have and give to them and to us. This will stay with me a long while. So beautiful.

February 1, 2013 at 3:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterJessica

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